Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion
March 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
- A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of these concepts
- Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today&'s society
- Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
- Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
- Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
1 When God Plays Politics: Radical Interrogations of Religion, Power, and Politics 1
2 Interrogating ‘Religion’ 8
1. Religion Trouble 8
2. ‘Seeing’ Religion: Six Common Clichés 11
3. Gagging at the Feast of Two Unexamined Assumptions: Religion, All Good or All Bad 14
4. The Religion-Is-No-Good Cliché 21
5. The Second Set of Two Clichés: Religion Is Belief and Belief in God 24
6. ‘Religion’s’ Private Parts 33
7. Powerless in Paradise 35
8. Two Ways to Eliminate ‘Religion’ 36
9. Is Religion Our Phlogiston? An Historical Test Case 39
10. Talal Asad’s ‘Religion’ Trouble 42
11. The Trick of Defining ‘Religion’ 46
12. Owning ‘Religion’ 50
13. How Durkheim Took ‘Ownership’ of ‘Religion’ 55
14. Religion and Its Despisers 59
3 Interrogating ‘Power’ 62
1. Confronting the Paradox of ‘Power’ 62
2. How ‘Power’ Plays Havoc with Thinking about “Institutional Violence” 66
3. Whom Should We Blame? ‘History’ on Trial 70
4. History’s Helper: We Should Also Blame Foucault 81
5. Problematizing Power in South Africa 84
6. Foucault versus Foucault 88
7. Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Hierarchy 90
8. What More Is to Be Done? Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Social Force 97
4 Interrogating ‘Politics’ 100
1. Defining ‘Politics’ 100
2. Where There Is No Politics: Despotism and Totalitarianism 102
3. Autonomous Politics 105
4. Where Our ‘Politics’ Makes No Sense 107
5. Politics, the Construct 109
6. Two Pernicious Views of ‘Politics’ 112
7. History Lessons for Professor Morgenthau 116
8. What Constitutionalism Owes the Council of Constance 119
9. The Emergence of the Political . . . from the Religious 123
10. Machiavelli and Luther: Critical Contributions to the Autonomy of Politics 125
11. Foucault’s Fault II: ‘Everything Is Political’ 130
12. The Hidden Fascism of Thinking that Everything Is Political 133
13. Public and Private: No Absolute Line of Demarcation 135
14. Resisting the Panopticon 136
15. Afterword: The Autonomy of ‘Politics’ and the Nation-State 140
5 Testing Interrogations of ‘Religion,’ ‘Power,’ and ‘Politics’: Human Bombers and the Authority of Sacrifice in the Middle East 142
1. Is ‘Suicide’ Bombing Religious? 142
2. Making Too Much of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: ‘Islamofascism’ 144
3. Dying to Make Too Little of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Robert A. Pape 147
4. No Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Talal Asad 150
5. How Religion Helps Explain Human Bombing 153
6. Human Bombing Is “Catastrophe,” but also a “Triumph” of “Secular Immortality” 155
7. Human Bombing = Jihad + Sacrifice 160
8. Sacrifice or Suicide? 164
9. But Do Any Muslims Really Think Human Bombers Are ‘Sacrifices’? 168
10. Sacrifice Makes Authority 175
11. How and Why Sacrifice Works: The Authority of Sacralization 176
12. How and Why Sacrifice Works: No Free Gifts 180
13. Concluding Remarks 182
- A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of what these mean
Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today’s society
Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
“Overall the book is an excellent contribution.” (Political Studies Review, 1 January 2013)
“But as a powerful myth-buster of some of the great fallacies about religion and politics, or even as a primer in the study of religion for undergraduates, it works very well and would serve to provoke lively debate.” (Modern Believing, 1 April 2012)
"The book is written in an accessible and engaging style, and readers who are new to the field of religion and politics will find it readable and helpful". (Religion, September 2010)"Going beyond the religion-is-good and the religion-is-bad clichés, while also distancing himself from fashionable academic eliminationists, Ivan Strenski examines the connections among religion, power and politics. Is religion merely ‘used’ by fanatics, as if it were an inert hammer that can be picked up or dropped at will? Is it to be equated with belief? Or with power, à la Foucault? Or is it, rather, inseparable from authority? Most readers are likely to have their presuppositions shaken by Strenski’s Manifesto."
—Gustavo Benavides, Villanova University
Religion. Power. Politics. Ideas and institutions that have been laden with a baggage of meanings picked up through the course of history – and which, unfairly or not, are often defined by these historic and social contexts. Ivan Strenski begins his book, Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion (March 2010, U.S.; February 2010, UK), in his Los Angeles living room in the summer of 2009, watching the demonstrators protest the recent election of President Ahmadinejad. As he watches the struggle between the powers that be (the police and militia), and the demonstrators, Strenski questions what he really “sees” as he looks at the events unfold.
Can these events, and acts such as human bombing or suicide bombing in the Middle East be distilled and simply described as “politics as usual”? Or are there other ideas at work, including religious and social motivations that have been repeated througout history in unimaginably complex ways? Do power, religion, and politics form a multi-layered reality in which we all function, whether we realize it or not?
A spokesperson for the Christian-right, the Reverend Pat Robertson, has claimed that “Islam is not a religion,” due to its overuse in a political context. Strenski likens the relationship between politics and religion to the hammer and the nail, each exchanging roles when it is appropriate or convenient to the agenda at hand.
Through a process of intense critical interrogation, Strenski digs beyond the simplistic claim that “everything is politics” and proceeds to unpack our assumptions about the interplay between politics, power, and religion. Eventually the reader truly sees the distinguishing features of each and can think with them, and apply these concepts to suicide bombing in the Middle East, the meaning behind Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, or the power behind the papal state.
Strenski pin points Six Common Clichés that often trip us up when entering this conversation:
The Religion-Is-Good Cliché: Based on the view that all religions are “religions of peace,” (as exemplified in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, and Gandhi) the flipside of this cliché is that political entities are violent or war-loving, and “hijack” religion (Ku Klux Klan, the IRA, the Crusaders) for their own ends. President Goerge Bush spoke in similar terms during a post-09/11 speech, “I want to speak tonight directly to Muslims … its teachings are good and peaceful.”
The Religion-Is-No-Good Cliché: An opinion perpetuated by “the new atheists” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Strenski questions the opportunism inherent in Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything,” and the apparent Islamophobia buried in his arguments. Plenty of religions such as Quakerism, Zen Buddhists, and the Amish live in a non-descructive, and peaceful manner. Strenski advises that we think of religion in a more relaxed way: our definition of religion needs to be accurate, but not necessarily precise.
Religion Is Belief and Belief in God: Strenski points out that the prerequisite of personal faith as a trait of a true religious person (chosen over ritual practice) is fairly recent and largely influenced by the Reformation period. The focus on “confession” or “testimony” is also a relatively modern idea. Tony Blair felt the need to eventually “shout it from the rooftops,” that he was a practicing Roman Catholic, rather than simply practicing his faith.
‘Religion’s’ Private Parts: The idea that faith is essentially private in nature, independent, and a direct reflection of the “innermost workings of the heart,” rather than linked to the events that take place in the “public square,” and in the world of politics.
Powerless in Paradise: The common assumption that historically power and politics have had, cannot, and should not, have anything to do with eachother, when realities such as suicide bombing in the Middle East reveals a very different reality.
Two Ways to Eliminate ‘Religion’: The formalists say that religion should only be used as an outdated, arbitrary “marking device” or concept, much like our old view of science (Isaac Newton), but ignore its contemporary relevance, particular in relation to power and politics.
Strenski’s treatment of religion, politics, and power in Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion (March 2010, U.S.; February 2010, UK), includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad, Michel Foucault, David Émile Durkheim, and Louis Leakey.